Citizenship first: the case for compulsory civic service 13th March 2009
Frank Field and James Crabtree (March) are right to recognise the problem of feral youth, but removing every young person from their chosen careers is not the answer. Someone who holds a real job is already performing a civic service, and real jobs teach civic virtues better than government or compulsory schemes.
If we are to civilise our disaffected youth, we must return power and choice to ordinary people. We should abolish all regressive tax, and revert schools, friendly societies and hospitals to their former, charitable but fee-paying, selves. This will restore the old values of the respectable working classes, nurtured by the environment that originally fostered them.
Terence Kealey University of Buckingham
10th March 2009
I would certainly vote for a compulsory civic service programme—with important qualifications. First, it would need to be very well organised, with lots of discipline. Where people were working with the elderly or children, they’d have to be screened so they could be trusted. The scheme could fail badly if there were cases of maltreatment or criminality. Second, it must be comprehensive: no outs for the privileged or anyone else. And third, it would need to be fun: much of which could be created by participants themselves, but some might be also be provided by theatres, cinemas, sports centres—universities, even.
John Lloyd London NW3
13th March 2009
Field and Crabtree say that two thirds of adults view young people as disrespectful. But this simply echoes the timeless prejudices of older generations. At present, young people do not feel treated with respect and are tired of being portrayed—hoods up, jeans down—as a social evil. Civic service could be something that young people welcome—but only if the idea was developed and debated with them. If not, it will come on top of a “creeping welfare state” that has extended compulsory education into both early years and life after age 16. And if this is the case, a critical mass of young people will do more than reject it: they will resist it. It could generate civil disobedience and a generational clash that would shake Britain.
Ed Mayo Chief executive, Consumer Focus
11th March 2009
As a 15 year-old, I feel I ought to respond to Field and Crabtree’s article. They assume that today’s generation of children has endless problems—something rarely backed up with sound evidence. Though I am only 15 (and therefore completely ignorant of my social duty in every way), my limited knowledge of history tells me that we have had problems with youth before. What about the hippies and punks, now just respectable middle-aged men and women? I doubt they were steeped in old-fashioned family values and social skills.
We see it in many situations, especially in schools, where if you make something compulsory, two things happen: first, teenagers get bored, second, nothing improves. People who put something into such schemes, and thus get something out, would have signed up to them anyway. Until the authors show me better evidence, I remain sceptical.
Matthew Ridley Northumberland
13th March 2009
I run London Boxing Academy, which Field and Crabtree mention in their article. We provide a sports-based GCSE curriculum for young people aged 13-16 who are unable to function in a normal school environment. We use boxing to teach teamwork, self discipline, respect, decision making skills, and a feel-good factor that raises self esteem. Some students suffer multiple disadvantages, while others have anger management problems. But most are well behaved and enthusiastic; we’ve never needed to call in the police.
We have two staff per student, we constantly exceed best practice in our procedures and training, our attendance levels average 91 per cent, and we have over a 90 per cent success rate in getting our kids back into education, training or employment. Despite this we have received no financial help from central government, hence the “shabby warehouse” in which we are based.
Simon Marcus Co-Founder, the LBA
Iran’s anniversary blues 5th March 2009
Christopher de Bellaigue’s insightful article about Iran (February) descends into outright cognitive dissonance when he touches on Israel. He fears an attack on Iran’s nuclear installations, as well he might, but adduces Israeli post-Gaza ” jingoistic pride ” as the motive.
Yet Iranian government leaders are quoted as advocating the destruction of the Israeli state on a daily basis; “death to Israel” is a frequently heard official slogan; rockets manufactured in Iran and gifted to three organisations funded and officially supported by Iran—Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas—are destroying property and threatening lives in Israel on a daily basis. Hence an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear installations would not require jingoism, or even ordinary nationalism as the motive—mere prudence is motive enough for an act of elementary self-defence.
And Iran could not react “by closing the Gulf of Hormuz,” as de Bellaigue claims; the straits are not a door that can be closed. Iran might try to inhibit the tanker traffic by destroying ships. But the professional estimate is that Iranian warships, boats and missiles would destroy (one) tanker before being themselves destroyed. Having fought only one war in modern times and lost it to a second-rate opponent (Iraq), the Iranian armed forces would make of President Ahmadinejad not a Hitler, but a Mussolini.
Edward N Luttwak CSIS, Washington DC
Sod’s law 12th March 2009
How could Sam Leith (March) write about Sod’s law—and the tendency of falling toast to land with the buttered side down —without referring to the seminal account of research in this sphere: Paul Jennings’s 1948 “Report on Resistentialism”? Jennings refers to the famous 1935 experiments by Clark-Trimble (demonstrated before the Royal Society of London) that showed incontrovertibly that “the marmalade-downwards incidence for the intermediate grades [of carpet] was found to vary exactly with the quality of carpet.” Clark-Trimble’s career was sadly brought short when he trod on a garden rake at the Cambridge School of Agronomy, but that is no reason why the achievements of this redoubtable pioneer (or the man who introduced his achievements to an incredulous public) should be forgotten.
Tony Percy North Carolina
The moral majority 21st February 2009
Jonathan Haidt (February) describes the US culture war as “a battle between two visions of the ideal society, one that is designed to appeal to two moral senses, the other designed to appeal to five.” Liberals, he claims, only respond to two moral senses, while conservatives respond to five.
No doubt political conservatives do care more than liberals about “loyalty to the in-group,” “authority” and “spiritual purity” (like restricting homosexuality). But to call these values three extra “moral senses” implies that they are ways of accessing some kind of moral reality that liberals lack. On the contrary, liberals have positive “moral senses” that tell them that elitist discrimination, unthinking subservience to authority and imposing restrictions on homosexuality are morally wrong. That is the nature of moral disagreement and argument, which why the use of the term “moral sense” is seriously misleading.
Alan Bailey London SE8
Madhouse economics 12th March 2009
The failures of global finance have brought the world economy to its knees, threatening a rerun of the great depression. But adding a dose of protectionism, as Ha-Joon Chang (March) suggests we should, would make this much more likely.
As globalisation goes into reverse, a virtuous circle of rising trade and booming economic growth has become a vicious spiral of collapsing demand and plunging exports. Breaking this spiral requires coordinated government action to boost global demand and the nationalisation and restructuring of “zombie” banks that are dragging the economy down with them. But while most governments are boosting spending and cutting taxes to stimulate demand, Chang is proposing, in effect, a tax hike on trade. This would reduce people’s purchasing power in a highly regressive way. And since Chang proposes that all governments agree to raise their import taxes, demand would be hit further by falling export demand.
Higher taxes and lower exports as a cure for the global recession? This is the economics of the madhouse.
Chang claims that “temporary” protectionism would provide breathing space for companies to reinvent themselves. But companies with a captive local market tend to milk it—especially if prevented by others’ protectionism from seeking out more competitive markets overseas. Companies that benefit from “temporary” protectionism have every incentive to find reasons to maintain it, and to devote their energies to lobbying politicians to that end. Just look at Europe’s common agricultural policy (CAP), which was originally designed to prevent Europeans starving. The last thing we need is a CAP writ-large.
In Britain’s case, advocating protectionism is particularly perverse. Now that the pound has collapsed, British-based exporters, not least its remaining manufacturers, have received a timely boost that will make them more competitive when the global economy recovers. An increase in protectionism would only close off their future export markets.
Philippe Legrain Contributing editor to Prospect